The humeral veil is a long, rectangular vestment used to cover a sacred vessel or the hands of the priest at specific times. The veil is usually white and embroidered in the center with a symbol of Christ. Its name is derived from the way it is worn, across the shoulders and back, called the humera in Latin.
The veil’s uses vary slightly between the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Mass.
In the Extraordinary Form (the Latin Mass), the veil has two roles. First, it is worn by the subdeacon at a Solemn High Mass. From the Offertory to the Our Father, the subdeacon stands before the altar steps, holding the paten at eye level. He covers the paten with the ends of the veil. This action signifies many things—for example, the seraphim veiling their faces before God, or Christ’s divinity hidden in His humanity.
The second role is its use at Benediction, which the Ordinary Form shares.
Benediction is when most of us see this special vestment. The priest vests himself with the humeral veil, covering his hands in its folds before lifting the monstrance for the blessing. The veil is meant to cover the priest, “hiding” him from our sight so that we focus only on the monstrance.
This reminds us that it is not the priest who blesses us with the Eucharist, but Jesus Christ Himself, in the Eucharist, who blesses us. This same symbolism is practiced in Eucharistic processions.
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